What happens to works that find their first audiences long after they were written? Writing in English is filled with Sleeping Beauties awakened hundreds of years after their creation to roars of eulogy. A century after her death, Emily Dickinson emerged as a heroine of queer studies, her ambiguous sexuality and radical texts treasured, admired and deciphered. Would Dickinson have been regarded as queer in her own circles? Was it perfectly acceptable in the 1860s to express excessive, passionate sentiments for another woman? And to send her flowers, accompanied by suggestive poems? Dickinson represented a radical intellectual challenge to conventional literary tastes in her lifetime; her writing waited for other readers, who read her work through the prism of their own concerns. Lost writing may sometimes disappear because the writers, or the language they use, do not fit the template of their age; and sometimes the literary works vanish because they were too much of their time to last into the future.
Is there an observable pattern to the kinds of books that are hailed as masterpieces long after they are written? Consider some recent examples. Irène Némirovsky’s Suite Française was quite literally dug out of a suitcase by her surviving daughter and published to great acclaim in France in 2004, some